As a yoga practitioner, it fascinates me how momentum is built around particular teachers. Teaching yoga can be a bridge to celebrity and international fame. I naturally shy away from “celebrity” teachers, so in 2007 when I began studying with Noah Mazé, who has taught yoga globally for over a decade, the natural skeptic in me practiced with a bit of hesitation. Now, having studied with him for many years and having hosted him during his many visits to Chicago, I can confidently say Mazé is true to his teachings in and out of the classroom.
Perhaps his deep dedication to service was shaped from being raised by Siddha yogi parents. Siddha yoga is a deeply spiritual practice springing from the scriptures of Kashmir Shaivism and Vedanta, and it focuses on meditation, chanting and service work. He began asana as an early teen in Boulder, Colorado and studied with some of the world’s most reputable teachers such as Richard Freeman, K. Pattabhi Jois and Manouso Mano.
I spoke with Mazé at yogaview Chicago at the beginning of his 2015 tour.
Could you describe YogaMazé, your teaching style of yoga?
Mazé: I would say that I am a direct, no-nonsense asana teacher. My job is to teach you yoga poses, facilitate your experience of awareness and to educate you about the practices and philosophies of yoga.
I don’t play music in classes, because I want you to hear the instructions I am giving; I want you to be in the somatic conversation happening in your body, and not be distracted by additional input.
I’m not your life coach, nutritionist, psychologist, doctor or your parent. I am a critical thinker. I’m interested in evidence-based methodologies, and we should be willing to revise our understanding based on new evidence. I don’t know that the above is what sets my style apart from other styles, because there are no black and white categories that any of us fit in.
Your teaching style stresses intensity of direction and physical prowess. How do you navigate going city to city and teaching to a population that perhaps hasn’t experienced your style?
Mazé: I’m pretty much myself everywhere that I teach. I can turn the intensity up or down, but I take a pretty direct approach to practicing and teaching yoga poses. It works to my advantage when a percentage of the room is familiar with my teaching style, as I don’t have to spend as much time explaining who I am and how I teach.
How do yoga teachers get students to be on board with a style and return for more, without alienating the students’ desires?
Mazé: When a teacher is confident and knows how to gauge students’ abilities and limitations, students can relax into that and focus on the task or pose at hand. Some of the studies on happiness I have read recently say that we are happiest when we are fully engaged and absorbed in what we are doing. In that full engagement, there is no time to feel regret about the past or anxiety about the future; rather, one can find complete absorption into the task at hand.
It is impossible to juggle every students’ expectations and desires, much less meet those expectations. What we can do is pursue the techniques and art of teaching yoga with deep interest and sincerity, and become ever more authentic and skillful in our ability to share that with others.
Do you feel all teachers should have high standards for themselves in order to be offering a quality experience? Should there be room for the disposable, superficial yoga class?
Mazé: As my teacher, Douglas Brooks, has said, “You don’t become a generalist by learning things in general.” A well-taught general yoga class reflects a high amount of skill and craft. Class doesn’t need bells and whistles, and it doesn’t need to be a life- changing event. I want yoga to be normal. I want a normal yoga class to be effective and reflective of deep care and intelligence.
In a sense, the teacher should fade behind the experience of the student, and students should feel successful and like they did it themselves. To be a teacher is to be deeply committed to the path of learning, to strive for excellence and high standards for oneself and for one’s students. We lead by example. If you are a lazy yoga teacher, you will attract lazy yoga students. If you raise the bar and expect excellence and integrity from yourself, you will attract that company. Who do you want to be?
Where do you recommend teachers go for education outside of the general studio 200- hour program?
Mazé: Yoga students and teachers are blessed to have access to amazing teachers and resources all the time. Taking yoga classes is some of the best continuing ed I can think of. There is something to be learned from everyone. When guest teachers come through town, take workshops and trainings with them. The yoga community also has access to university classes and online learning communities. I am committed to offering the highest quality online courses that I can deliver.
There are so many fantastic continuing ed opportunities, I think we are only limited by time and our own motivation and creativity. Learn anatomy. Learn philosophy. Learn about yourself. Learn the myths and stories of your ancestors. Ponder deeply what it is to be human, a cultural and social being. Ponder deeply what it is to be alive, to be a somatic, living, natural being.
The yoga tradition is as deep as it is wide. What are you interested in? How deeply do you want to go? There is at least a lifetime of learning within the yoga tradition.
Who are your sources of inspiration?
Mazé: My students continually inspire me. My practices continually inspire me. Being a student, learning, continually inspires me. My teachers continually inspire me. Nature continually inspires me. My chosen dharma of teaching continually inspires me to learn and grow.
My children are some of my greatest teachers. My wife is undoubtedly my greatest teacher. My first asana teacher, Richard Freeman, used to talk about the life of a householder as advanced practice, and I wholeheartedly agree with that perspective.
Householder life is advanced practice because on a given day there is no time to meditate or put a mat down for “practice,” so everything must become practice. It’s crunch time all the time with two small children and a busy teaching and work schedule; that’s where I see my yoga rise to the occasion (or fall short).
I used to think that yoga was more of an individual’s pursuit to their own greatness. I used to go to ashrams regularly to meditate and do yogic sadhana (the dedicated study of yoga) in pursuit of enlightenment. Honestly, I think I have transformed more since becoming a husband and father than all those years of ashram life.
For some, lineage points to legitimacy. Does this apply to you? Why or why not?
Mazé: Absolutely! I invoke my teachers every day. I have been blessed to have many great teachers. I learn from my teachers’ great qualities and their deep flaws. Everything and everyone has their great virtues and their deep shadows. I have been let down, hurt and deeply disappointed by teachers on my path; that too is part of the learning.
Some of them are teachers in the present, and I am actively in conversation with them and honored to keep such company. Some of them are teachers yet to come, and I look forward to being in the back of the room learning from them.
Learn more about Noah Mazé at yogamaze.net.
Sara Strother has been a committed student of yoga since 1999. She is a mother, a hiker and a plant- based dynamo in the kitchen. Check her out at abalancedpractice.com or in Chicago at yogaview.